In continuation of a fantasy booking scenario, where the 65th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest survived the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the hope of providing some light entertainment in these troubling times, The Soundshark presents the second semi-final of the already pre-planned brackets (while also abiding by an improvised and hybrid set of drinking rules), to fulfil the scenario of a potential grand final. Remember, this is all purely personal opinions and light humour, so nothing is meant to offend. Just think of me as a less funny Graham Norton or Sir Terry Wogan. Or just less funny. With fun in mind, this is how the second semi-final played out, quickly going over the drinking rules again, in case you wish to play along or had forgotten them.
These rules were cherry picked in order to cover as broad a spectrum of Eurovision/music performance cliches, in order to maximise drinking potential, and squeeze as much fun as possible out of it. I only took a single drink for every rule, but you may well live more dangerously than I do, so tweak for best fit. Take a moment once again to familiarise yourself once more:
- Crazy dancing
- Crowd selfie
- Geometric shapes
- Key change
- Language change
- Lighting bloom (i.e. heavy use of light or singular bright burst)
- Smoke machine
- Removing clothing
- Ticker tape
- Martial arts
- Wearing colour
- Wind machines
- Traditional costumes/instruments
- Aggressive violin
- Any form of opera
Here we go again!
Austria: Vincent Bueno – Alive
My immediate thought was that if you closed your eyes, you could hear Justin Timberlake and no distinguishable difference, which you can take as a compliment I guess. Maybe they should’ve got this guy to do Eurovision that year Justin actually performed. The funk kicking in is undoubtedly the best part of the song, as the video is littered with a fair amount of odd and confusing imagery. Like a desk chair floating. And Vincent running in a pork pie hat for no reason whatsoever. And the black masked dancers. And a Misfits jacket. Not to mention the hilarious whispering parts. The ending with just his vocals and that powerful piano however, superb.
Drink for: Crazy dancers
Czech Republic: Benny Cristo – Kemama
You wouldn’t regularly associate dancehall with the Czech Republic, especially with such prominent brass, but anything goes in Eurovision really, and realistically, I could picture hearing this on a night out. Maybe not that Iron Maiden top though. I like the track. It provides a fascinating culture clash, of Eastern European values like public drinking and house parties, but musically, it resembles mostly anything you could hear on global radio yet is unique enough and is interesting instrumentally to ensure it stays memorable. It does wonders for diversity too, the numerous people featured in the video all from as many subcultures as you li- and he took his top off. Never mind.
Drink for: Whips off clothing, light bloom, wearing colour
Estonia: Uku Suviste – What Love Is
If you were looking for the best example of Westlife this year, mark it off on your checklist. This guy’s got you covered. No doubt talented, with a really great singing voice, and even better hair to match, this ballad doesn’t seem to have that special something to make an older audience weep, or a strong enough message to make you reevaluate your life. The ‘LOVE’ in lights suffices enough. Despite having a nice harmony with the piano, this one will be more fondly remembered for the sudden appearance of a candle fire hazard, and cobwebs on the microphone that just will not fucking sit still.
Drink for: Light bloom, smoke machine
Greece: Stefania – Superg!rl
Someone clearly needed to sign post heavily that this was a Eurovision entry, otherwise I would’ve thought I turned on MTV by accident. This is a serious budget music video for a live, or what would’ve been live, popularity contest where the strength of a music video doesn’t ultimately matter. As a statement for female empowerment and feminism, it plays its role really well. Mind you, her superpowers do include her having the ability to brush her teeth with the wrong side of the brush, and making YouTube videos viral while standing in precisely the same spot. There is some music to back this, but other than a very annoying horn in the chorus, you’re not likely to remember anything but the video in a hurry.
Drink for: Traditional instruments
Iceland: Daði og Gagnamagnið – Think About Things
I know absolutely nothing about this group, but I want to be friends with them and strangle them all the same. Recommended viewing multiple times over if getting hammered is your primary aim. Seriously. This epitomises everything that I love about Eurovision. Catchy synth-pop, awkward dance routines, ridiculous outfits, and miming playing instruments so badly it’s an art form. Creepy synthwave intro is creepy, and I’m sure that Miami Sound Machine would like a word, but the minimal funk is pitch perfect with this delightful nugget of pop nostalgia. Put it this way, if you hate when the keytars suddenly become saxophones, you’re better off skipping this one.
Drink for: Ticker tape, light bloom, wind machine, crazy dancers, crowd selfie, wearing colour, key change
Moldova: Natalia Gordienko – Prison
The piano melody with her voice is very nice, and the flute is so soothing, sadly, there’s very little going on with this ballad that you’ll start to pay far more attention to the video. Or so you think. Believe me, the overbearing camera dude leads me to believe this is a very extroverted metaphor for abuse. The lamps I’m not so sure about though. But a minute after she tries not to launch into Lady Gaga territory, this cinematic synth soundscape drifts in out of nowhere, and transforms the tone of the song completely. It saves it from being mediocre for sure, and makes it 100% the most intense song entered for the contest.
Drink for: Wearing colour
Poland: Alicja – Empires
Quite honestly, I recommend listening to this without the visuals first of all, then with them for this song to make complete sense, as there’s an awful lot to absorb. Footage of the Californian and Australian wildfires, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina cycles throughout the video allude to the greater humanitarian issues in the world, while Alicja is near bathed in pyrotechnics throughout. Even two birds cop it, or look like they get scorched. But the arrangements; the horns, the violin, and her voice, even if it doesn’t feel the right fit for a song of this magnitude, make this perhaps one of the most beautiful anti-establishment songs you’ll ever hear.
Drink for: Pyrotechnics, opera, wind machine
San Marino: Senhit – Freaky!
I am all for super overt LGBTQ+ support and celebrating individuality, yet some of the imagery in this video is just plain weird. Sorry, a sensory overload is far more like it. Not to kink shame, but the diamond mask that makes the dancer look reptilian, looks like they’re in the wrong crowd, even for this video. The statue of the gigantic middle finger can stay though. That’s as perfect a statement as possible. Otherwise, super upbeat disco was missing from my Eurovision checklist this year so far, and I’m glad that base was finally covered. It is very infectious, so mission definitely successful there.
Drink for: Wearing colours, crazy dancers, wind machine
Serbia: Hurricane – Hasta La Vista
I very nearly didn’t sit through this one. Not just because the moombahton sounds uninspiring, and they almost look like they were put together to be a knock-off Pussycat Dolls, but the oversexualisation in the video was so distracting, I had serious questions about what this was trying to achieve. If this was these ladies’ conscious decision, embracing their confidence and being comfortable in their own skin, power to them. The problem is with this kind of display, it normalises this existing behaviour, associated with pop music for decades, and sets a very bad example. I just find it sad because there is potential, and aside from some neat costume design, it is worth forgetting.
Drink for: Language change, wearing colour, wind machine
Albania: Arilena Ara – Fall From The Sky
No drinking to be seen here, it’s another lyric video. No disrespect, but you can tell Adele had a major influence on this ballad. I mean, even the song title is very close to a certain James Bond theme that the English songstress released not so long ago. Poking aside, the composition here is quite deep and immaculately produced, and she has a great voice, this song being a very good showcase for them. The extended note changes are a little unnecessary in my eyes, but not taking anything away from her range, though the softer notes are probably my favourite. Really solid all-round.
Drink for: N/A (or every time you can hum Skyfall over the top of the existing lyrics)
Armenia: Athena Manoukian – Chains On You
The same criticism that was levelled at Hurricane, can also apply here, though I think to a slightly lesser extent. Slightly. I could’ve sworn I’ve seen this Cardi B music video before, and it realistically needs a strobe warning at the beginning, but strangely I really like this. I could dance to it. This is probably saved from just filling space on regular radio rotation, on a really good instrumental level, that steel drum specifically, and that she has obvious vocal talents in spades, so why auto-tune rears its ugly head here is beyond me. I think if there were more random sound effects and animal noises, this could have a good crack at the charts.
Drink for: Light bloom, crazy dancers, smoke machine
Bulgaria: Victoria – Tears Getting Sober
There is an unshakeable Seventh Tree-era Goldfrapp/spectral folk feel to this song, and I love it. It made my hairs stand on end. With such a delicate voice, the total goth aesthetic portrayed in the video seems a strange fit to me, though throughout I do really want to give this girl a hug. And it rains too. That key change admittedly turns it a fraction too much into Earth Song for my liking, but albeit briefly, and at the expense of making that scar I’ve been staring at the whole time disappear. With art direction like this, this would’ve been one of the only live performances I would’ve been intrigued to see, had it been through.
Drink for: Smoke machine, key change
Denmark: Ben & Tan – YES
Oh boy, we’re at that Ed Sheeran point of the competition. Do yourself a favour and close your eyes, and tell me if you hear any different. Even her voice sounds like Ed Sheeran too. That’s astounding. You get what you pay for with an acoustically led power pop number. It’s catchy, wonderfully optimistic, but ultimately uninspiring. I do have to add that the lyric, ‘I think my heart is beating me to death,’ is incredible, and I’m expecting to hear that in many an alternative rock song about ex-lovers from now on. Pumping crowd noise into an empty building at the end just seems mean, and for some reason, I’ve written, ‘His suit jacket is upset.’ Suit jacket, don’t say yes. It’s OK.
Drink for: Light bloom, pyrotechnics
Finland: Aksel – Looking Back
This entire song really does feel like it wants to drive forward, but is permanently stuck in first gear. I guess that’s a super polite way of saying it goes precisely fucking nowhere. I’m sure the background they used for this was recycled from somebody last year, or the year previously as it looks eerily familiar. Not a big fan of the moustache I have to say either, should’ve just babyfaced it. Sorry, bit of a low blow there. The guy can sing, the ending vocals are pretty good in particular, but this whole song is so dull and short, it feels like Finland did a rush job, and this guy was done dirty.
Drink for: Geometric shapes, wearing colour
Georgia: Tornike Kipiani – Take Me As I Am
I have zero idea who this guy is, but if I can have just as much fun being angsty in the back of a taxi as him, then I’d be doing something right with my life. I don’t understand the symbolism of a toy car on the guitar strings either, but I’m all for it. Anyway, brooding post-punk that explodes into some kind of dark dubstep derivative is incredibly different to everything that has come before, especially because it’s so in your face. That growl however. I challenge you to not bolt upright when you hear it. Or laugh. This guy totally nails the message about being true to yourself, but goodness he sound like he needs some counselling.
Drink for: Language change
Latvia: Samanta Tina – Still Breathing
Now. I drastically need to know whether this lady produces neurofunk drum and bass as a side hustle, because WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK IS THAT DROP. I can understand totally why anyone would be offput by this, but you put this in a DJ set in a club and that place would quake. And she can rap too. A lady of many talents it seems. Again, an excellent centrepiece for female empowerment, and doubly excellent for body positivity also, there is a lot that is right with the visuals. I think her hat needs to be bigger though. The only downside is that chocolate cake looked delicious, and now I can’t have any of it.
Drink for: Wearing colour
Portugal: Elisa – Medo De Sentir
There is a definite feel of a muted En Vogue here, with both ladies voices being quite lovely, and the piano arrangement is very good to boot too. Sadly, that’s all I can be that complimentary about really, as despite one moment where it feels like it’s about to come alive, that’s quickly quashed, and the song never feels like it progresses. If I understood Portuguese, I’m sure the words would be beautiful, so I can guarantee that’s also a merit if I knew. Yet, it’s a very mellow slice of soul, which defeats the objective really. Sorry Elisa, not this year for you and your sequined flares.
Drink for: Wearing colour, crowd selfie
Switzerland: Gjon’s Tears – Répondez-moi
Words struggle to find exactly what to classify this genre of music as, but transcending such a line is what makes this such an awesome listen. This young lad has insane vocal talent, perhaps similar to Jimmy Sommerville, maybe even better, but doesn’t seem that bright as he could look less sad with an umbrella. Ignoring some dodgy camera work and unflattering angles, this is undeniably the most powerful song of the entire semi-finals, the use of reverb on what is an expertly sculpted composition, heightening the sense of ambience, and amplifying tenfold that emotional punch carrying enough weight to knock an elephant for six.
Drink for: Pyrotechnics (yes, I know it’s a curtain on fire, just drink)
And that concludes Semi- Final 2.
For extra entertainment value, guess the 10 finalists I would’ve picked, and take a drink for everyone you got wrong, assuming you were drinking of course.
In this abstract fantasy scenario if I were selecting the finalists, they would be as follows:
- Czech Republic – Benny Cristo – Kemama
- Iceland – Daði og Gagnamagnið – Think About Things
- Moldova – Natalia Gordienko – Prison
- Poland – Alicja – Empires
- San Marino – Senhit – Freaky!
- Armenia – Athena Manoukian – Chains On You
- Bulgaria – Victoria – Tears Getting Sober
- Georgia – Tornike Kipiani – Take Me As I Am
- Latvia – Samanta Tina – Still Breathing
- Switzerland – Gjon’s Tears – Répondez-moi
Thanks for reading, and if you missed it, feel free to head back to Semi-Final 1 here.
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